It's just as many had anticipated after La Salle, coming into the season as the area's No. 3-ranked squad, left Crawford Stadium on Sept. 3 with a 27-14 victory over top-ranked North Penn.

The Explorers, taking over the No. 1 spot with that come-from-behind victory and never relinquishing it, and the Knights, now a close No. 2, will meet again, this time for the right to play for the PIAA Class AAAA state championship.

The eagerly awaited state semifinal is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Plymouth Whitemarsh. Here is a closer look at the playoff:

Coaches. North Penn's Dick Beck, a lineman at Central Bucks West and Temple, is 106-17 (.862 winning percentage) in nine years. For La Salle, Drew Gordon, a quarterback at Bishop McDevitt and Villanova, is 50-15 (.769) in five seasons.

At stake. A berth in the state final against the survivor of the semifinal between District 3 champ Cumberland Valley (12-2) and District 7 titlist North Allegheny (13-1).

Internet. The game will be streamed live at www.lschs.org/stream.

Round 1. Down by 14-6 at intermission, the Explorers scored on three third-quarter possessions to rally for the win. Quarterback Matt Magarity fired three touchdown passes, including two to wideout Sean Coleman, and scored on a 1-yard keeper.

Injury update. North Penn tailback/safety Craig Needhammer is expected to play after rolling his right ankle early against Neshaminy last week. La Salle strong safety Conor Murphy is also probable after suffering a right hip injury in the second quarter against Easton last week.

Go-to back. La Salle tailback Jamal Abdur-Rahman, used more from the Wildcat formation in the playoffs, has rushed for 1,560 yards and 21 touchdowns. Against Easton, he carried 17 times for 105 yards.

Potent backfield. In addition to Needhammer, who has rushed for 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns, the Knights can turn to fullback Dom Taggart (960, 15) and slotback Brandon Mercer (440, 6).

Stout defense. The Explorers' defense is anchored by tackle Ryan Geiger, ends Cameron Cappo and Joe Naji, inside linebacker Connor Daly, free safety Kevin Forster, and Abdur-Rahman at cornerback.

Improved secondary. North Penn's secondary has made significant strides since the loss to La Salle. The group includes Needhammer, moved from outside linebacker to safety, and cornerbacks Dan Gevirtz and Danny Wynne.

Wildcat scheme. The Knights are prepared for Abdur-Rahman and Forster to take direct snaps from center. Against Easton, Forster, who filled in at quarterback when Magarity was out with a concussion, carried six times for 37 yards.

Bigger threat. After a shaky start, North Penn junior quarterback Corey Ernst has thrown for nearly 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns. "He's very solid," Gordon said. "He doesn't play outside his limits."

Analysis. On paper, this is a true toss-up. Early on, the Explorers must try to soften the Knights' interior defense with successful passing. North Penn can't allow Abdur-Rahman and Forster to reach the corners.

Expect a classic. It's hard to bet against La Salle, but we like the Knights to hold Abdur-Rahman to 70 or so yards, capitalize on a late turnover, and move closer to their first state crown since 2003.

Pick: North Penn, 21-14.

Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019